Shabbat blessings at the synagogue in Kechene
Shabbat blessings at the synagogue in Kechene. (Photo courtesy Friends of the Beta Israel Of North Shewa)

I hope this week’s cover story can help us shed some light on the ties that bind all of us who have faced hardship around the world, for being Jewish or any other reason.

All our cover stories are special, but this week’s is extra-special. Keri Guten Cohen, who worked for two decades as the JN’s beloved story development editor, has spent months researching the amazing story of the Beta Israel of North Shewa, a.k.a. the “Hidden Jews” of Ethiopia, and the group that one Jewish Detroiter formed to help them after a single three-hour visit. It’s a remarkable narrative, one rich in cultural history as well as deeper significance about what it means to be a Jew.

Andrew Lapin
Andrew Lapin

Suzi Colman of Commerce Township, Rabbi Joshua Bennett of Temple Israel and two others have formed the group Friends of Beta Israel of North Shewa. Over time, these 200 or so Jews and their group, the Lovers of Zion Association, may be able to live more freely and openly as Jews — and, with the planned addition of a Jewish cemetery in Addis Ababa, to die as Jews, too. And their ranks may yet grow as more “hidden Jews” come out of hiding.

We Jews have always been a “lost tribe,” a diasporic people. But the Beta Israel of North Shewa became “hidden” not because they fled their homes, but because they stayed — most living as Christians while hiding their Jewish roots, yet still facing prejudice from the majority Coptic Christian community.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah to Israel in Operations Moses and Solomon face discrimination and police violence today in the land they were told was their own. And here in the U.S., we are once again being compelled to listen to and learn from our own brothers and sisters from the African diaspora.

I hope Keri’s story, and the work these groups have done, can help us shed some light on the ties that bind all of us who have faced hardship around the world, for being Jewish or any other reason. In the future, may we have no more reason to hide.

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